Fashion designer at Cris Barros.
THE INSPIRATION TALK
HI CRIS! SO… I KNOW YOU STARTED OUT AS A MODEL. WAS THAT WHAT YOU WANTED TO DO AS A CAREER?
Not really… Back then, there was a Brazilian magazine called Capricho which was like Vogue for us; everyone was crazy about it! One day, someone from the magazine came to my school to cast some of us for a shooting in Disney World. I was 16 going on 17. Everyone wanted to do it, and I got picked! Once there, I ended up being more interested in everything else but the modeling part ; helping the stylist to arrange the looks, talking to the photographer about the best locations, the lights… I loved the whole experience and ended up on the cover! When I came back, I just went back to my normal teenager life. After graduating from high school I had absolutely no idea what to study. My mom suggested I should become a lawyer as the safe thing to do but she saw I wasn’t so sure about it and took me to a career orienteer which was the best thing that could have happened to me as he was pretty convinced I should work in creation and absolutely NOT becoming a lawyer! Haha. My mom told me I should really do something I love, in order to do it well. Simple but accurate. Yet I still didn’t know if I had enough talent to become a fashion designer. So I went to University and started studying multiple areas linked to fashion: marketing, management, design… At that time in Brazil it was only the beginning in terms of fashion. So after graduating, I decided to go study in Europe, and went to Istituto Marangoni in Milan where they had this one-year specialized course in fashion design. I realized that the whole modelling experience had been like a workshop: I had worked with the best designers, photographers, brands, art directors in Brazil! It was the best experience anyone could have. So I continued modelling a bit there, choosing the projects and people I wanted to work with. And somehow it worked out well, I even did some catwalks, when you know I am not that tall!
WELL KATE MOSS IS NOT THAT TALL NEITHER…
Haha well okay but I am not Kate Moss!
WHAT DID YOU DO AFTER THAT?
I stayed in Milan and started working as an intern for Stephan Janson which was really nice because he had all this amazing experience with Yves Saint-Laurent. He ended up hiring me. I was also still doing a few modelling jobs on the side. One day as I was working on an italian TV commercial, I remember the director wanted to shoot a long white dress and got pissed at the stylist because he didn’t like any of the dresses she had bought to the shoot. At that time I was creating my own dresses to wear since I knew all these great seamstresses in Milan who would sew my designs, and so I happened to have one of them with me and asked the stylist if I could suggest it to the director. She was so desperate that she begged me to do it. So I put it on and I walked around in it without saying anything… He loved it and there I had my first creation in a TV commercial.
HE SAW YOUR BRAND BEFORE IT EVEN EXISTED!
I was so happy! Suddenly I had I lot of friends, was travelling everywhere and earning money on my own… It was an amazing period. Especially for such a young woman, on her own, in a foreign country. I would have probably stayed longer but my mother fell sick with cancer so I went back to Brazil to be with her. I was 21 years old.
WHAT DID YOU DO WHEN YOU CAME BACK HERE AFTER SUCH AN INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCE THERE?
I sent out my portfolio to Renato Kherlakian from the jeans brand Zoomp to which he replied that he loved my work but didn’t have anything available in his design department at the moment, but he needed someone with a special eye in the marketing department. It was a good salary, I was 23, I took the job! The first campaign I managed there was with Mario Testino and Carine Roitfeld! They were the best team in fashion back then. I had a lot of responsibilities and it felt amazing. Renato gave me his trust. I learned a lot there. It opened my mind and gave me a complete vision of how a brand worked: marketing, finance, stores, PR, castings.
WAS IT THIS GLOBAL VISION OF THE BUSINESS THAT MOTIVATED YOU TO FINALLY LAUNCH YOUR OWN BRAND? AND LIKE WHAT DOES THE 1ST DAY OF CREATING YOUR COMPANY LOOK LIKE?
The experience at Zoomp was amazing for sure but at some point I also felt a bit distant from what I really wanted to do; fashion design. Also I could never find anything to buy that I really wanted to wear, and all this time I would still continue to do my own clothes. People asked me about what I was wearing all the time. I finally decided to launch my own brand in August 2002. I was confident because I knew a lot about the Brazilian fashion industry. I found a space in “low” Oscar Freire where, back then, there were absolutely no stores. The space used to be a pizza place. So I called my friend and architect Carolina Maluhy who was working starting her own company. I told her that this would be her first job as an independent architect and because I didn’t have a lot of budget, we created this simple concrete-based and raw wood project. I designed a collection of 80 pieces and asked some friends of mine to each give me the contact of 10 of their friends that I could invite to my store opening. It was funny because all the designers were doing the opposite: they would first gather with other designers to be sold in showrooms, and then only open their own store, when I wanted to create my identity before selling to multibrands. We had a great evening with all my friends and their friends : everyone showed up! The next morning when I arrived at the store I would pray for at least one client to show up. At 9.45am I had already 5 clients waiting at the door. In 15 days I sold the entire collection! I didn’t know if I had to laugh or cry: I didn’t have any item to sell anymore and yet didn’t want to repeat the pieces. I really believe in limited editions.
HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE WORKING FOR YOU BACK THEN?
I was doing pretty much everything by myself: the fittings, the designs… I had three salespersons and one accountant. That was it. I didn’t have any assistant. I was working on the week-ends, at night…. It was crazy. Until the business grew and I was able to hire more help.
I FEEL THIS IS ALSO SOMETHING VERY CRUCIAL FOR A COMPANY: KNOWING WHEN TO INVEST IN GROWING.
For sure! It was impossible for me to work at the same time on the designs, the accounting part, talk to multibrands buyers, to clients…
OBVIOUSLY YOU MADE ASSERTIVE CHOICES BECAUSE OF THE BUDGET YOU HAD AT THE TIME WHICH ENDED UP BEING VERY COOL, BUT HOW DID YOU KNOW WHAT WAS GOING TO BE THE IDENTITY OF YOUR BRAND?
When I began, I had a very simple business plan. Almost nothing was written. I was just following my intuition.
I LIKE THE BRAND BECAUSE IT IS ROMANTIC, COMFORTABLE, EASY, COLORFUL, AND VERY FEMININE, IN A BEAUTIFUL WAY. I FEEL YOUR CLOTHES ARE DRESSES MADE TO BE WORN FOR WEDDINGS THAT YOU AUTHORIZE YOURSELF TO WEAR EVERYDAY. IS THAT YOUR VISION OF THE MODERN WOMAN?
I think it is my vision of the world. I work with passion and emotion. When I design one piece I like to believe I can transport people to a particular universe. I love to wear more sophisticated pieces to low-key places and when I go to places where people expect me to be really produced, I always go more dressed down. The secret relies in good accessorizing, like wearing a pair of babouches for a wedding!
TO STAND OUT, ALWAYS!
Yes haha. And to have fun when I wear my own designs.
DID YOU HAVE ANY INVESTORS WHEN YOU STARTED OUT?
I started the company with R$ 150 000 invested in 3 equal parts between my boyfriend at the time, a girl friend and me. But I was the only one working in the company, they were helping me only in the financial and accounting areas. When you think about it, it is nothing! I had to use that money to produce the collection, to design the store, pay the rent, the team members… And then we used all the profit from the first collection to pay for the production of the second collection. Last year we sold a minor percentage of the company to the best fashion group of Brazil, called Soma. They were looking for a high-end brand to add to the catalogue they had. I liked the fact that from the start they told me that they didn’t want to get involved in the creative part since they thought we were doing a great job by ourselves. They invested in our business because it had the soul of its founder and creator. It was the perfect timing for us. We needed to be even more professional and weren’t able to go to the next stage without them.
WHAT WAS THIS “NEXT STAGE”?
A lot of small things that inevitably makes the difference. For example, improving our internal processes, creating synergies throughout our supply chains, importing fabrics, outsourcing some of our back offices for areas such as IT or HR... All of these in order to help constructing a better company even if we were already really organized! In the early talks with them, they actually told us they were very impressed, especially for a Brazilian company which usually is more… “informal”. That helped a lot during the negotiations. I was very proud that after 15 years of existence, someone actually said “congratulations” and putting money in our business. The structure they have is really impressive, it gave us access to another level of business even with suppliers. I am really trusting them and it allows me to focus on what I love to do. You know, when I wake up in the morning I know I am going to have to kill 10 lions, but it is all about looking at the bright side of it. I could stop working if I wanted to, but it gives me so much pleasure and satisfaction that I don’t want to! Right now for example we are sponsoring the Pivô Arte e Pesquisa which is really important to me as I am passionate about Art (which especially in Brazil we need help with to support our many artists). Even the smallest conversations I have with people from Pivô inspire me so much.
HOW MANY PEOPLE WORK FOR YOU NOW?
HOW DO YOU CHOOSE YOUR TEAM MEMBERS?
I have people who have been working for me since the beginning, but it is always in movement: you hire people, you train them and then sometimes they have to leave you and then you have to start the whole process again with new people. But right now I think it is the best moment I ever had, “team wise”. In every department I have people that I trust and most of them have been with me since a very long time like Cris Cunha, our planning and product manager, Cacá Garcia in the creative department, Patricia Fiorda in the fabric area and so many people that I would love to cite but this interview would become a Bible! My partners: my sister and her husband are the ones truly responsible for the evolution and growth of the brand. They are in charge of planning, retail, production and finance. Without the incredible exchange we have together, everyday, it would have been impossible to make it our dream. With my team of experts in every department I can really focus on the design part. For sure I have to be present for everything because it is my company, but I don’t have to follow the daily conversations.
I HAD ALREADY TALKED ABOUT IT WITH BETINA (HERE), DESIGNERS MODELING THEIR OWN DESIGNS; TELL ME ABOUT THIS UNUSUAL THING. IS IT TO BLUR THE LINE AND REINFORCE THE FACT THAT YOU ARE BEHIND EVERYTHING?
It’s funny you would say that because I don’t feel I’m doing it that much (laughs). I feel it can create a bigger desire for people to see the clothes worn by a “real” person. For example when I see pictures of women wearing Cris Barros at a wedding, the next day sales from these specific dresses increase like crazy, even if these same clients were in the store the week before and already saw the dresses. It even works for me: when I see people wearing my designs that I don’t have in my personal closet, because obviously I don’t keep all the items I design, I suddenly feel the urge to have it. It works. (Laughs).
INSTAGRAM HAS REALLY CHANGED THE GAME IN TERMS OF IMAGERIE. WE ARE BOMBARDED WITH IMAGES EVERY DAY. HOW DO YOU COPE WITH THAT TO STAND OUT?
Our brand is always evolving in the sense that I always try to improve it from one collection to another. I question myself about the shapes, the fabrics, the concepts, the moodboards… How I can keep inspiring my team… There are a lot of questioning involved to always keep on innovating. But thankfully now I really know who I am and what I like. When I am in a fitting, I always ask myself: do I really like this? Do I feel desire for it? To stand out, you have to have that knowledge about yourself. Otherwise you start going in wrong directions. I think the dream of every designer would be to do only one collection per year in order to have much more time to research for inspiration, try things out etc. That is a dream. A fantasy.
AND I GUESS THE “SEE NOW BUY NOW” RULE HASN’T HELPED. DO YOU SOMETIMES FEEL ENSLAVED TO DELIVER A PRODUCT TO ABIDE BY THE MARKETS SCHEDULE WHEN YOU ARE NOT READY?
I had my crisis about that. A few times actually. Haha. But then even if I see the process of constructing a collection very close to the process of an artist working, I am not an artist; I am a designer. And I think that to work with technical constraints like timing gets you much more creative. You have to deliver. There are no excuses. Everyone in the market works with the same constraints. You can choose to do differently but then you’ll do it just for yourself. I wish things were slower but I have to accept the game to be part of it. And I add even more to the difficulty since in order to stay exclusive we always work on huge collections but in very small number of pieces for each item. We work like crazy, my team is amazing to support this vision. The birth of a collection is such a stimulating thing to watch.
DO YOU FEEL YOU SOMETIMES (OR ALREADY) HAVE HAD TO SACRIFICE FOR YOUR CAREER?
Oh yeah, a lot : friends, family, fun moments, travelling. But I can’t complain because every time I get even just a day off, I do travel. I always had a different life from my girlfriends; I always had a very busy life. And today I reached a place where even if I still work a lot, I take my time to appreciate personal moments too.
YES! I SAW IN AN OLD ITW OF YOURS THAT YOU LOVED YOUR WORK BUT WERE NOT A WORKAHOLIC; WHICH I QUITE ENJOYED SINCE IT SEEMS NOWADAYS THAT IF YOU DON’T SAY YOU WORK 15 HOURS A DAY YOU’RE NOT COOL…
The secret about succeeding at your job, or at least doing it well is living your life! If you only work, where are you going to find your inspiration?
I THINK IT IS PRETTY BRAVE TO SAY THAT, ESPECIALLY AS THE BOSS OF A COMPANY WITH A BIG TEAM.
I still also have to show the example! Sometimes I am lazy too or very tired, but then I force myself to get out there, to go to that exhibition, to go to that party, to go on that tour, to talk to that person…
YES I GUESS WHAT REALLY NOURISHES YOUR BUSINESS IS FEELING TRUELY HAPPY TO GET TO WORK EVERYDAY, AND NOT OBLIGATED TO GO. I GUESS IT HELPS KNOWING YOUR EMPLOYEES ARE SO GREAT FOR YOUR BUSINESS.
Yes, I feel like they are my family.
PRETTY BIG FAMILY OF 220 MEMBERS, HAHA.
Haha. Brazilian family.
HAVE YOU EVER FELT INSECURE AT WORK? WHERE DO YOU SEE THE FRONTIER BETWEEN A MAN THAT COMPLIMENTS YOU AND A MAN THAT ABUSES YOU? I SAW AN OLD ITW OF YOU WHERE THE JOURNALIST COULDN’T STOP SAYING HOW BEAUTIFUL YOU WERE AND HOLDING YOUR HAND WHILE HE WAS SAYING IT. DOES THAT FEEL OKAY TO YOU?
Not specifically about men, but at the beginning I hated giving interviews because people would only talk about my modeling career or who I was dating. I get that people are curious about that stuff but I wanted to show I was a designer. I am very careful who I give interviews to, now.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE #TIMESUP MOVEMENT THAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?
This movement is so important for women. I believe in equality. For me it is easier because the fashion industry here, or at least the people I deal with are mainly women. But I remember when I started the business I looked younger than I was and whenever I had to negotiate rents or any financial aspect of the company, people would assume it would be easy to get what they wanted since I would probably not understand anything from my apparent young age. Weirdly enough it was always turning around in my favor since they would never expect I would actually know how to deal with these things; they were surprised and I would always get what I want. I also think I am a very lucky woman because I have an amazing husband who supports me in my decisions. He is always so proud of my work… When I say I love what I do and I have fun doing it, it is also because I have him by my side. He gives me so much strength and teaches me how to have fun and always stay positive. I used to come home at night complaining about problems at work and he would look at me and tell me “do you want to know everything I have been through at work today or should we enjoy ourselves and a have a nice dinner?”. He brings so much lightness. Of course when I really need to share important things he is always here to listen. He has this expression he always says to me “vamos pra frente que atrás tem gente” (editor's note: let's move forward). I love it, it reminds me that I should never pity myself and I feel stronger whenever I say it to myself.
WHO ARE YOU INSPIRED BY? YOUR INSTA SERIES HAVE BEEN SHOWCASING REAL BRAZILIAN WOMEN WHEN EVERYBODY ELSE WAS STILL FOCUSED ON MODELS ONLY; DO YOU GENUINELY FIND INSPIRATION IN THESE WOMEN OR IS IT JUST A GREAT MARKETING STUNT?
It ends up being a marketing stunt but it never started as one. I think it is all about us wanting to challenge ourselves with new things, especially since our brand is 15 years old. When we started on Instagram, nobody was doing anything with it so we thought it would be fun to do something specific for this channel and produced these short videos. It really started out as a fun project, we called our friends to participate in it which was something different than showing a bunch of models (which would have been very expensive too!). I love featuring my friends because they really inspire me. Lots of them are designers too, we travel together, we party together… And in the end we have these experiences together which I cherish. We always exchange so much during these moments spent together. I support all of them in their individual ventures, and I love doing collaborations with them. This exchange between us is amazing.
WHERE DO YOU GO TO FOR MENTORSHIP?
It depends : for business advice I tend to go to my husband, and I do exchange a lot with my associates Dani (Barros Verdi) and Luis Felipe (Verdi) which are amazing. And now we have Soma which is really helpful in giving constructive advice. For creation, I go a lot to my team.
WHAT IS SACRED FOR YOU?
My holidays! Haha.
WHAT SHOULD YOU TRY AT LEAST ONCE IN YOUR LIFE?
Try to do new things. Always. It is not about one thing. It is about living your life in a non-boring way!
WHEN ARE YOU YOURSELF THE MOST?
I have a very quiet side and sometimes I really need my peace. My husband owns a farm in the interior of São Paulo, and I’ve had my happiest moments there. It’s all about the week-ends with family, friends or even just by ourselves, walking bare feet in the grass… We have a tree house there and it’s the perfect place for me to draw new designs. The energy of the nature during the day and at night we cook spaghettis with a glass of wine and we have finally time to talk. It is very special. I feel myself there.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE SONG?
I never know what to answer to that question! I do not have a favorite song. It depends a lot on the phase I'm into. But I will always love Brazilian music. I think it's beautiful and poetic.